Kudzai M. Mubaiwa
Scaling up companies in now a global phenomenon. Before the digital age, a small business was confined to a local market and few would breakthrough to export their products. Now, any business located in any place in the world can market, deliver to and be paid from any place on the earth.
Ecosystems for entrepreneurship include several countries and in light of this an annual entrepreneur focus event is convened by the foundation that also hosts Global Entrepreneurship Week.
This year’s edition of that event, the Global Entrepreneurship Congress; is being hosted in Bahrain. The focus is on how we can accelerate the development of healthier high performance ecosystems in the wake of a global entrepreneurial revolution.
The congress hosted a full afternoon event that further focused on national entrepreneur ecosystems as these are the building blocks of the global ecosystem. It was an honour to attend and here are some observations from our country focus using the tool called the Entrepreneur Ecosystem Canvas (EEC) by the Amsterdam Centre for Entrepreneurship.
The EEC takes account of the fact that businesses, institutions and ecosystems players go through phases of growth. In the main these are the concept, start, growth and maturity stages. At concept stage there are ideas that are just starting and the focus is proof of concept. At start stage there is movement from proof of concept to first revenue. Growth stage entails progress from first revenue to single market coverage. Maturity stage speaks to moving from a single market coverage on to multiple markets and global ones too. This is the top line and one of the two aspects of the Canvas matrix.
The second side speaks to the key players in the national ecosystem and these are entrepreneurs themselves, Government, knowledge institutes, established companies, knowledge institutions, service providers, incubators and accelerators, investors and other stakeholders.
Without a doubt it is essential to start by appreciating that entrepreneurship requires all these stakeholders to participate and they must appreciate that they all contribute important work to ultimate success.
The best entrepreneurs emerge from economies that know that it is a shared responsibility and have a common vision that they feed into.
The entrepreneurs that have made it in a nation are important players because they are the symbol of what is possible. It is good to take note of, celebrate them and learn from their stories across the concept, start, growth and maturity stages. They become role models for other emerging entrepreneurs and lead in mentoring.
On this score, it is heartening to note that many of them in Zimbabwe are leading by leveraging social media as a platform for inspiring, teaching and sharing.
Government is an important player and they are the next element on the matrix. It cannot be contested that no one beats Government on scale, depth and reach and they are an unavoidable partner as they already work across all provinces, districts and wards.
However, Government is always a poor implementer and would ideally leave this to partners whom they can collaborate with. They should focus on availing a conducive environment for entrepreneurs and lead with policy. As it stands, there is no clear entrepreneurship policy in Zimbabwe.
With the way the world is wired now, the efforts of the respective ministries in charge of Small to Medium Enterprises, Women or Youth alone will not suffice. There must be a full national entrepreneurship policy, preferably housed under the Ministry of Finance so that it gets a credible envelope. Other ministries can then play support roles in the rolling out of the practical initiatives.
In Bahrain, they are 80 percent along in implementing such a policy and this has resulted in a notable movement in the economy from reliance on oil to diversification that leaves oil contributing to 25 percent of the economy’s income.
They take the position that Government must be responsive to the needs of private sector, after all it is funded by the activities of private sector. Such a shift in Zimbabwe would be the leadership we need — a robust entrepreneurship policy with one main goal, for instance: producing globally competitive entrepreneurs and maintaining a pipeline of emerging ones by training them and providing other support service.
The policy can also identify five or less important objectives and these can be brought to life through specific initiatives. One such initiative would be increasing export of Zimbabwean products. The ministry of finance must give due attention to entrepreneurship and business because this is the supply side of the national purse that they budget.
There are many low hanging fruits and those already in enterprise can speak this given the chance. Another interesting learning from Bahrain — the government ensures 20 percent of its’ purchases are from Small to Medium enterprises.
To feed into the work of entrepreneurs and national government, the ecosystem also needs the contribution of knowledge institutes. There have been complaints about the quality of graduates from places of learning and in order to prosper, it is time to modernise these spaces.
Entrepreneurship must be taught in theory, but we need our universities and colleges to actively support breakthrough research and new product development by learners. The culture of innovation must be embraced for indeed we can develop local solutions for local problems using local resources if we apply ourselves.
Established companies can partner with these knowledge institutions so that they stay competitive and have dynamic business models based on churning out relevant products.
We cannot overemphasise the necessity of service providers in the entrepreneurship ecosystem — their efficiency is critical — many businesses rely on power and internet companies (for example) staying afloat and having maximum uptime so that costs of doing business remain affordable. Incubators and accelerators are very important supporters of entrepreneurs, indeed they do that heavy lifting that few can commit to at the concept and starting stages. Entrepreneurs continue to find themselves, until they become sound, sustainable and investor ready.
These investors also matter and we ought to begin to think a lot around using local pension funds and crowdfunding as mechanisms for funding good enterprises.
The benefits will be mutual, decent returns for funds when these businesses do well, and the leg up for a business from local supporters who understand them. There are several other stakeholders that can come in the ecosystem such as development partners. In summary, no entrepreneurship ecosystem relies on one player. Everyone needs “others”. Only when we have organised ourselves internally, can we be meaningful and active participants of the global entrepreneurship ecosystem. Now is the time to start, the fundamentals are in our favour.